The Healing of Impulsivity in the Light of our Understanding of Personality

Gordon Allport once spoke as follows about differences among people: “For some the world is a hostile place where men are evil and dangerous; for others it is a stage for fun and frolic. It may appear as a place to do one’s duty grimly; or a pasture for cultivating friendship and love” (Pattern and Growth in Personality). These differing outlooks and attitudes reflect something unique about how various individuals engage with the world that psychologists call personality. Of course, the fathers also recognized these differences. On this subject, Elder Joseph the Hesychast also wrote: “My … [Read more...]

Impulsivity and Asceticism

Daniel Akst in his 2011 book on self-control wrote, “Exercising self-restraint can be depleting, yet it can also be ennobling.” The ennobling quality of self-restraint is something the fathers knew quite well. The Greek word for self-control, ἐγκράτεια, means continence, temperance, or sobriety by containing, rather than releasing through impulsivity, whatever passes through one’s mind. Saint Basil the Great in his letter to Ourvikio, refers to self-control as “denial of the body and confession to God…, to yearn for nothing, to not be stirred to passion by what the eye sees and the ear hears.” … [Read more...]

Temptations and Impulsivity

Oscar Wilde famously wrote, “I can resist anything except temptation.” His humor underlines an important truth in the exploration of impulsivity. Impulsivity is not normally operative in all aspects of one’s behavior. In some areas of life, even impulsive people may demonstrate behavior that is commendably regulated and self-controlled. After all, we witness the impulsive gambler who is otherwise industrious in his work and family life or the one given over to drink who is kind and generous with others. In their research, Eli Tsukayama and Angela Lee Duckworth argue that common examples of … [Read more...]

Remembering Impulsivity

The American Philosopher John Dewey once remarked, “Time and memory are true artists; they remold reality nearer to the heart’s desire.” Unfortunately, in the case of pathological impulsivity, time and memory can become graffiti artists of the lowest caliber vandalizing the beauty of the soul in predictable, yet regrettable, ways. An impatient perception of time accounts only for part of the pull that the object of obsession has over the impulsive. Another significant portion of the attraction comes not from the object itself, but from the associative memory—“the countless images, imported … [Read more...]

Time, Patience, and the Impulsive

Tempus fugit, a phrase commonly inscribed on antique clocks, comes to us from the poet Virgil’s Georgics. In its original form, it served as an ode against sloth and procrastination. However, for the impulsive, time is something as fleeting as sand slipping through an hour glass. In an impulsive context, time is irretrievably connected to immediate gratification that must be seized before the moment is lost. The person shackled by impulsivity is constrained by the one variant of time that matters—the present. Deutsch and Strack posit that “impulsive processes are myopic and that it takes … [Read more...]

Pathways to Impulsive Behavior and the Cycle of Sin

I’ve noted in previous posts that there is a clear connection between impulsivity and addiction. In their article on genetic factors related to impulse control, authors Florence Cormier, Julia Muellner, and Jean-Christophe Corvol note that, “According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the main characteristic of impulse control disorders (ICD) is the inability to resist an impulsion, tendency or temptation to perform an act that harms oneself or others. Many of the diagnostic criteria for ICD are shared with substance use disorder.” Like addiction, impulsivity also … [Read more...]

Is it ever Good to be Impulsive?

Although in most cases from a Christian perspective, impulsivity needs to be kept in check, there is such a thing as a good kind of impulsivity. We see such “blessed impulsiveness” in the Apostle Peter and in the other Apostles who left their nets to follow Christ. There was no careful weighing the proposition or slowness to move, but instead a ready, cheerful, almost instantaneous wholehearted obedience. “They did not delay, they did not procrastinate, they did not say, ‘Let’s return home and talk about it with our relatives,’ but ‘they forsook all and followed,’ even as Elisha did to Elijah. … [Read more...]

The Fathers’ Response to the Three Kinds of Impulsivity

In our ever-changing, fast-paced contemporary world that rewards Type-A aggressive behavior and a results-oriented lifestyle, impulsivity can become our default mode for interacting with the world.  This “ready-fire-aim” approach to life can be framed as quick reflexes and speedy adaptation needed for success and getting ahead. Of course, if one’s gut reactions are wrong, that same approach can be one’s ruin. Impulsivity, however, is not just about being an active, carpe-diem sort of person.  Acting on the spur of the moment is only one of the measures of impulsivity used by psychologists. … [Read more...]

Impulsivity, Addiction, and the Passions

It should come as no surprise to those familiar with individuals struggling with addiction that impulsivity is a core issue. In technical terms, there is a certain fundamental correlation between addiction and impulsivity. People who are impulsive are more vulnerable to developing addictive behavior, because they give little regard to adverse consequences (Impulse Control Disorders and Co-Occurring Disorders, Potenza, p. 51) or to be more precise, they prefer immediate reinforcers to delayed ones, instant gratification to long-term satisfaction. Being impulsive means acting without … [Read more...]

Introducing a New Series on Impulsivity

There is something to be said about impulsivity being a particularly contemporary problem. The more control we appear to gain over so many technical aspects of modern life, the less control we seem to have over ourselves. An “I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it” disposition towards life governs not only the actions and reactions of infants, but also the behavior of the developmentally more mature. Today’s marketing campaigns certainly encourage such thinking and modern technology provides ample space for practice in acting on impulse to such a degree that it can become the default mode for … [Read more...]